Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ding...You Are Now Free to Start Focusing in the Classroom

I've created a new daily blog specifically dedicated to classroom organization and management. Please visit me there at: The Clutter-Free Classroom

Check out that jeweled bell and Barbie-pink manicure.  

Could I look any more diva-like?

Today I share with you an idea that works like magic.  The only downside is that it has the potential to drive neighboring teachers nuts.  

Take the good with the bad.

In my class we use "tallies."  The students are awarded tallies when they are caught exhibiting role-model behavior.  This would work with any system like that.

As chaos ensues within the classroom (and by chaos I mean anything from "getting a  little chatty" to "full on riots"), I look for someone who is doing the right thing.

And then...


I whack my little bell and the room comes to a screeching halt.

Because: a) They know somebody is about to get awarded a tally and (even if they were the one go-go dancing on a desk they still hold a flicker of) hope that it will be their name called and don't want to miss it and b) They know that the jig is up and that I'm watching them all.  Theyat least want to give the illusion that they were doing what they were supposed to.  

I don't care why they freeze and look. The point is that they do.  And after I quickly announce who has "earned a tally" they instantly get back to what they 'should' have been doing and a calm fills the air.  There is no raising of the voice.  There is no signaling out negative behaviors.  There is no making anyone feel bad...even if they were being naughty ;)

It's pure magic.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In the Jungle, The Mighty Jungle

I've created a new daily blog specifically dedicated to classroom organization and management. Please visit me there at: The Clutter-Free Classroom

My 50 Page Jungle-Safari Themed Classroom Kit is now available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. It includes all of the items shown in the picture above and bel0w, plus more! Click here to view the kit.

I've hinted at my theme for next year and it's time for the soft opening debut. There is still more to add and I will go into detail about many of these elements in future blog posts. However, I know a lot of you are doing a similar theme so I thought I would share my classroom as it is thus far as well as some ideas I've gathered online.

I was able to find some borders and bulletin board items locally (Lakeshore, Staples and Dollar Tree) but I made a lot of the stuff myself. The things that I made can be found here: Littlest Learners SAFARI / JUNGLE THEMED CLASSROOM PRINTABLES KIT

I've debated what to call this theme. I think I've decided to just call it a "wild animal" theme. I suppose jungle, safari, rainforest or adventure would also apply. The monkeys are my favorite part.

Reading Corner:
Construct a hut
Use animal print fabric to cover pillows

Add to the classroom
fake plants
stuffed animals

3D Elements
safari hats
roll up green paper to make vines
or buy fake vine foliage (dollar stores often carry this)

Bulletin Board Titles/Ideas:

Welcome Boards
Swinging into ____Grade
Welcome to the Jungle
Beware: It's a Jungle in There
Rumble in the Jungle in ___ Grade
Welcome to __ Grrrrrrrrr-ade (with a lion image and tiger print letters)

Student Work
Wildly Wonderful Work
Work to Roar About
No Lion...This is Some Grrrrrrr-eat Work
ssssssss-ensational Work (with snakes)

Student of the Week
King/Queen of the Jungle
Top Cat
Top Banana

Job Chart
Spotted: Classroom Helpers
Hunting for Helpers
Jungle Jobs
Hopping Helpers (tree frogs)

Information Hut (attach rafia to the top of the board)

Birthday Board:
Born to Be Wild

An Elephant Never Forgets

Science is about Exploring (binoculars)
Sssslither into Science (snake)

Any Board:
Wild About ______
Bananas Over _____
____ is Worth Roaring About
Making Tracks in _____

Use the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" as a transition. Play it at the start of the day and let the class know they need to be unpacked and settled before it ends.

The Monkees Theme Song
George of the Jungle Theme Song

Use a large flower pot or coffee can, 6 foot PVC pipe (2 inches wide), plaster of paris, an umbrella, and green and brown paper. Mix plaster of paris according to directions and put into pot until it's almost full. After plaster has set for a few minutes, insert pipe in center of pot. Allow plaster to completely harden. Wrap the pipe in brown paper to resemble a tree trunk. Open the umbrella and put in the top of PVC pipe. Decorate with leaves made from green paper.

Another great way to make trees is to go to a fabric store and get the long cylinder tubes that fabric comes on. Cut it how tall you want your tree. Then get brown paper lunch sacks and cut the ends off. Stuff over the poles and squish down hard. This gives it the bark look. Then make your branches out of rolled and crunched brown butcher paper.

When you form groups in the classroom (cooperative learning/reading/tables) give them animal names.

Create a PRIDE board: Use a lion and let the kids hang up work they are proud.

If you do a communication folder/binder, call it The Jungle Book.

Go on Safari in other classrooms:

Have you seen my classroom themes page at my new site? There are photos and ideas for over 30 themes. Click on the CLASSROOM THEMED button below at the top of this page to check it out. :)

Jungle Themed Classroom Jungle Themed Classroom Photos Jungle Themed Classroom Ideas Jungle Theme Classroom Jungle Theme Classroom Photos Jungle Theme Classroom Ideas Safari Themed Classroom Safari Themed Classroom Photos Safari Themed Classroom Ideas Safari Theme Classroom Safari Theme Classroom Photos Safari Theme Classroom Ideas Animal Themed Classroom Animal Themed Classroom Photos Animal Themed Classroom Ideas Animal Theme Classroom Animal Theme Classroom Photos Animal Theme Classroom printables

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dry Erase Marker Ideas

Today's No Mess Monday Organization Tip is: A Marker Holder

Fourth of July is this weekend.  You would think that would represent the start of summer, but I've learned it really means that all of the Back-to-School items will be out by Monday.  

Sure, you'll find the obvious items you need for your perennial shopping trip.

But, it's also a fabulous time to "think outside the box."

Look at the items and think about how you can use them in your classroom.

Shower caddies for college students make great supply caddies.

Dorm rugs are perfect for the classroom (translation: cheap and funky).

You get the idea.

On of my favorite scores a few years back was this handy little thing here.

It's meant for high school or middle school lockers.  It's magnetic and perfect for sticking to my dry erase board.

To hold my dry erase markers.

Up high.

Where 3rd graders can't reach them.

Because 3rd graders like to draw on whiteboards during indoor recess and use up all the ink.

Also, it keeps things neat and organized.

And you know how I love neat and organized.  Since I'm chatting it up about dry erase markers, now would be a good time to give a shout out to a product I totally heart.  Let's all give it up for Board Dudes Double-Sided Magnetic Dry Erase Markers. 

I bought a set for my son to use at home (me thinks it was at Target or Staples), but they are on my shopping list for school.  Each marker has two colors.  And not just your typical lame dry erase colors like red, blue and black, but fun colors like purple, teal and lime green.  They also erase easily.  I bought some snazzy colorful markers before and needed to really get my scrub on in order to erase them.
If the fun colors and easy erasability were not enough to make these awesome, they are completely magnetic.  As in, stick the marker to the board.  Love them!

But, if you can't find the locker thingy.

And you don't want to buy the snazzy markers that I've plugged.

I have another tip for you.

Hot glue (or Superglue if you dare...personally, I'm afraid of Superglue, but I digress) a strong magnet to the cover of your current dry erase markers.  They'll stick to the board and when it dries out simply get a new marker and swap the cap for the magnetic one.

Happy Monday All!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summertime...and the blogging's easy!

Once upon a time I used to spend a large chunk of my summer vacation preparing my classroom for the next year.

And then I had a baby which gave me two options: bring said child to school with me and get nothing done or pay for childcare so that I may go in to work.

During vacation.

When I'm not being paid to be there.

The picture below was taken when my son was less than two.  Sure he looks to be entertaining himself, but chances are he was tearing down bulletin boards, unorganizing my library, dumping math manipulatives or attempting to eat classroom supplies moments later.

He's come along way since then.  In fact, this picture was taken this morning.  He's actually either helpful or else he is helpful by not being unhelpful if you know what I mean.
Today is the first day of summer "vacation."  I spent it at school.  Truth be told, I like working on my classroom.  I enjoy planning for the fall. I consider teacher resource books to be an acceptable beach read.  I am very fortunate to have a job that doubles as a hobby so spending vacation time "working" is something I like to do.

I just don't have the time or ability to go in as often as I used to though so I went in for a power session today and will pop in on Monday for "the last hurrah."

My room is basically ready for the fall (save for some locker tags and my hopes of repainting a few book shelves).  Everything else can be done at home when the littles are sleeping.

I'm also really looking forward to working on my little summer gig.  I have bins and bins of things to list.  I  have lots of ideas for new original products brewing in my head.

And, as for this blog....

I'm taking requests.  Need help with a specific topic?  Have a question and want to pick my brain?  Have a theme in the works and want some more ideas?

Ask away.  Leave a comment or shoot me an email at:
I have so much planned.  I've been brainstorming topics for weeks and snapping pictures like crazy.  I also have plans for some videos.  I'll be blogging daily for the summer.  

Exciting stuff people!

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Doorway Information Center

Luckily classroom emergencies are few and far between.

Sure we have the occasional planned fire drill and bus evacuation practice, but a real emergency needs to be planned for.

Since we all exit through the main door of the classroom, I set up my important info station there.  

I simply created a "pocket" by attaching colorful paper and border to the wall by stapling around 3 of the 4 sides.  The blue folder you see sticking out contains my class list as well as all of the contact info for each of my students.  I have it facing in because the front has the students home phone numbers on it.

I also included a map for our fire escape route, staff list and a class list (these all stay on the wall).  Below it is the staff extension list.  Also, note that the phone has directions boldly printed for dialing 911 since an outside line must be obtained first.

If there is an emergency and we need to evacuate then I can grab the folder on the way out.  If there is an in-class emergency, I can dial 9-1-1 and have all of the important info at my fingertips (contact info, allergies, etc.)
Many classroom teachers also mount a hook in the doorway to hang the classroom key from so that it can also be "grabbed on the go."
setting up a classroom, classroom photographs, classroom emergency procedures

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Diary of a Pig - reading response idea

Today's Teacher Tip Tuesday idea is: The Diary of a Pig

Have you read the Diary of a _____ books by Doreen Cronin?  So much fun.

There are diaries for a worm, a fly and a spider.  Each is more awesome than the last.  T
hey are written in the form of a diary, are witty and have fun illustrations and quick one-liners.  

I love them.  Kids always love them.

One of them mentions that a worms head looks just like it's butt.  What kid isn't going to love that?

A few years back, I happened to be reading Charlotte's Web to the class as my chapter book read aloud and broke these fun titles out during our writing block as a model of organization and voice from six traits.

Ever have one of those light bulb moments?  You know, the kind where you scrap your plans and go with something way better that "just came to you?"

That's when "The Diary of a Pig" was born.  We used Cronin's books as a model/inspiration and composed our own version based on the events in Charlotte's Web.
We discussed 1st person vs 3rd person.

We talked about style.  We chatted about the important parts that would be important to include. Not only is it fun and creative, but it is a fabulous way to check a child's level of comprehension on a text.

After reading a chapter (or chapters in some cases), I asked the class to compose a diary entry.

While the book doesn't specify dates, we used context clues to form a timeline and thus "date" our entries (Wilbur being a spring pig, Fern being in school, the crickets signaling summer, etc).

They were asked to include some words that they considered to be "key vocabulary."

The cover was designed to look like Cronin's.  We observed how each of her covers had a white background and each had a pencil as part of the illustration.  They needed to do the same.

After all of the books were completed, we made them available in the class library for a bit.  They took a lot of pride in this activity.

You could easily do this with other books as well.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Water Bucket - classroom organization tip

Today's No Mess Monday Classroom Organization Tip is "The Water Bucket."

Today's classroom organization tip is "a water bucket."

We do have a fountain in our classroom, but we were told we couldn't let the kids use it when the whole H1N1 fiasco came about.  

You know, cooties and all.

Since all classrooms have cooties and some people don't even have sinks, I thought I would share my "watering hole" with you.

The children are encouraged to bring in water bottles to stay hydrated.  

Water bottles at their seats=toys and distractions.

Water bottles on the counter or shelf=big ole drippy mess on a hot day.

Sure it's a science lesson on condensation, but who wants water puddles everywhere?

My solution was to place a dishpan next to the sink to house their water bottles.  They still use the hand signals to ask to get a drink, but they simply go to the bottle bucket instead of the fountain.

Which here in the northeast is called a "bubbler."

I almost typed "bubbler" but figured most of you would have no clue what I was talking about.

The kiddos write their names or #s on them with sharpie.

I've really souped up the bucket to go with my new theme (coming super "next week soon")

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Heart This

So my son graduated from preschool yesterday.  More on that later because it is so very blog worthy.  

Yeah, I get it...nobody really wants to read about other people's kids or even look at pictures of them, but you'll want to read this.  

Because his preschool rocks.

And I totally stole tons of ideas from them and used them in my own classroom.  

And I'm going to share them with you when I post about his graduation.  

So yes, you will be forced to look at pictures of someone else's kid and read about his accomplishments, but I promise there will be something in it for you.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I have a product to share with you.  I went to the Lakeshore store the other day to buy more border for my new theme (also coming soon to a blog near you) and I realized I hadn't bought any graduation gifts.

You know, because graduation from preschool is a huge accomplishment that takes years of hard work and all (2 to be exact) :)

So I grabbed a few things for him while I was there.  One of which was this cool timer.  You simply, pull back the red part to the amount of time you want and watch as the red part gets smaller until if makes a little beeping sound.  It's probably more elaborate than that, but I teach social studies and my teaching partner teaches science and technology so I'll leave the technical part of this product at that.

Anyhow...I bought it for him because we have 10 month old twins at home. And soon school will be out and it will be me + him + them home alone all day.  Which means a lot of waiting for him.  So I thought this would be a handy way to show him how much of a wait he'll have if I say, "We'll go outside in 10 minutes."

He seemed mildly interested in it.

But, I LOVE it!

I can totally see how fantastic this would be in a classroom.

I like to micromanage.  I like to manage time.  I love visuals.  See how this product would make me happy?  It would be so great to say, "you have 30 minutes to work on this project" and let them see the time elapse.  I imagine it would be super fantastic for those pokey little puppies that drag out every assignment.

It was under $30.00 and well worth it.  I highly recommend it for your classrooms.  Or for your own little ones at home.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Important Book - a great writing activity

Here is one of my favorite lessons.

I do it every year.  

I do it several times a year.

And you should too. :)

Are you familiar with The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown?  

Love it!

It’s basically a book that details simple objects.  There is a pattern to her writing.  It is such a wonderful example of “organization” if you teach Six Traits.  You can peak at the inside of the book here.

I think the best thing about this lesson is that it can be used with any subject area and at every grade level. For the younger learners simply make a template for them.  For the even younger learners let them dictate it to you.  Older learners can write it on their own.

I read the book.  I discuss the pattern and organization to her writing.  We chat about how she finds the details in simple objects.

I reread the book.  During the second reading we discuss each page.  We talk about how she intertwines the writing with the illustrations.  

I model an example of how they need to write it.  I even work in one of my sad little drawings.

I am creative. I am not artistic.  I firmly believe they are two very different characteristics.

I then give them a topic and they each select something to write about.

I start the year with them writing about themselves.

Example: The important thing about Jane is that she is a great friend.  She is funny, she walks her dog every day and she cries when she gets hit with a ball in gym.  She is ticklish, she loves to eat oatmeal and she is saving money to buy a new American Girl Doll.  But, the important thing about Jane is that she is a good friend.

I have them write about a content area:

The important thing about magnets...

The important thing about Pilgrims...

I have them write about math:

The important thing about a (insert the name of a geometric solid)

The important thing about multiplication is...

It’s a really good way to assess what they know.  The final products make beautiful displays.  They also make fabulous class book.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chaperones Gone Wild

I took personal days on Monday and Tuesday of this week to spend time with my son.  The thought process was that we would beat all of the summer crowds.  Our itinerary: the zoo and an amusement park.  I didn't account for field trips though.  

Yellow buses were abundant at both locations.

The buses unloaded countless children and their chaperones.

You know...those adults who are selected to accompany the youngsters as they leave the confines of the school and go out into the world for some real life educational opportunities.  

I've been fortunate to have had busloads of great chaperones in my past.  Unfortunately, the faculty and staff at "School from Maine I shall not name" can not say the same.  Not only did they not have good chaperones.  They had really REALLY bad ones.

Chaperone #1: 
Location: In the goat petting/feeding area 
She was screaming into her cell phone.  Based on the "conversation" I overheard, I assume it was a battle with an ex over child support.  Either that or she was holding a kid for ransom.  Either way she was inappropriate.  She stood screaming into her phone, "I can't F-ing argue with you now, I'm on an F-ing field trip.  You get me the F-ing money by Friday or you won't see him this weekend."  This would be bad enough on it's own, but when you factor in that A) she didn't leave out the 3 letters in "F-ing" that I opted to omit and B) behind her was a child she was supposed to be watching pressed against a fence with several hungry goats frantically trying to get the ice cream cone filled with food that he held high above his head then it is really bad.

Chaperones #s 2 and 3: 
Location: same goat feeding area
These lovely ladies were so busy talking smack about Chaperone #1 that they were oblivious to the goat poop fight going on with the kids they were scheduled to watch behind them.

Chaperone #4: 
Location: sitting on a wall outside the main entrance to the zoo (with her legs far enough apart to show the world that she dressed the part of the field trip to the zoo by wearing animal print underwear) and smoking.  
As another group passed by her she said, "If you see any of the kids in my group let them know I'm out here.  I needed a butt."

and my personal favorite...

in fact, I officially award her the Trip's Best Chaperone trophy.

Because, unlike the others, she took the time to make sure the children were safe and accounted for.  

Chaperone #5
Location: Outside the restrooms
I'm not sure where she thought the field trip bus would take her to, but she was wearing what looked to be a swimsuit and a pool cover the zoo.  I  watched as she physically took the hands of what appeared to be 3rd grade boys and made a human chain out of them.  She took one boy's hand and put it on a fence post.  She then took the other boys by the hand and connected them so that her final product was four 8/9 year old boys holding hands while one secured them to a fence with his fist.  Satisfied that they were not going to get away she barked at them...

in a voice that you can only achieve by smoking a pack a day for at least a decade

"Don't none of you think of letting go or leaving this spot.  If you do you're gunna have to deal with me when I come out. I gotta go take a whiz!"

And with that she turned and went into the bathroom leaving the linked boys frozen in fear.


They didn't so much blink while she "went to take a whiz!"

Clearly they respected her authority.  Perhaps she was the principal of this fine, fine school.

All About Me Collage with a Twist

I was going to wait until the end of the summer to post this idea since it's a great activity for the start of the new school year.  I decided that now was the perfect time to post it.  This way you can start saving all of those magazines that you'll be reading at the beach over the next few months.

You will be reading magazines at the beach this summer, won't you?

Landlocked midwesterners are excused, but the rest of y'all are required to relax on the beach with magazines.  

Don't you just love this fun spin on the traditional "About Me Collage" and the usual profile.  Use the overhead to trace the child's profile.  (or make your life easier and use my photo trick, cut that silhouette out and then project that onto the know, because paper silhouettes don't wiggle and jiggle).

Next, cut out the profile from a large piece of black construction paper.  Have the kids make a collage about themselves onto a different piece of construction paper.  Place the cut piece over it and attach with glue.  

Need more back to school activities?  Check this out!
back to school ideas, back to school project get to know you activity get to know you activities

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hardware Drawers as Classroom Sorters - No Mess Monday

I still have more classroom themes posts coming this week, but wanted to get back onto my weekly posting schedule.  Today's No-Mess Monday Classroom Organization Tip is Hardware Drawers.  You can buy these at Home Depot, your local hardware store, or even Target/Walmart and the like.  They are SO much cheaper than sorters designed for this purpose.  These pictures came from my colleague Lisa's classroom.  I used the same system when I taught k/1.  Since the drawers usually pull out all the way, they are really easy to alter the appearance of.  Just pull out the drawers and spray paint the heck out of the thing in a sassy color.  
I would highly suggest also labeling the inside of the drawee with the contents.  These drawers are great for sorting letter tiles for Making Words activities.  They are also ideal for housing items for a writing center as well as art supplies.  For a really cool and creative look try hot glueing a sample of the drawers contents (googly eye, sequin, pom pom, etc) to the front of the drawer.

classroom organization pictures, classroom organization photos, organizing letter tiles, organizing art supplies

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I know a lot of you are already done with school, but we still have 9 days left...and that's WITHOUT snow.  To give you all a jump start on your summer reading, I'm offering a sale at Littlest Learners!
Buy 3 Teacher Resource Books and Get 1 Free (equal or lesser value)- just note SUMMER SALE in the notes box at checkout and I'll refund the price of the 4th book.  This sale will run until 6/25 ( when I am officially on summer break!)